Dangers of Mobile SIM Swaps, and How to Prevent It

Mark Kreitzman
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November 14, 2023
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November 14, 2023


In today's hyper-connected world, our mobile phones are more than just communication devices and our mobile numbers have become more important than our social security number.  Our smartphones contain a treasure trove of personal information, from contacts and messages to emails and financial apps.  People also forget that their personal and work history get attached to their mobile number including work history, emails you use, other mobile and landline numbers, information about your siblings, and the list goes on and on.  A hacker does not need to know your name anymore, they just need your mobile number and with the use of modern day search tools and AI, they have a profile on you within minutes.

Because of this, a fast growing threat looms in the shadows of our digital lives – mobile SIM swaps. This seemingly innocuous procedure can wreak havoc on individuals' privacy and finances, making it crucial to understand the dangers associated with SIM swaps and take preventive measures to safeguard our digital identities.

Since I’m in the business of preventing SIM swaps, I get to talk to SIM swap victims every week.   Unfortunately, they come to Efani after it’s too late, but once you're a SIM swap victim you never want to experience that pain again so they end up making the move to the Efani secure mobile service.  While I wish I could share names of the victims and the consequences, the following information is based on those phone calls.

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What is a Mobile SIM Swap?

A mobile SIM swap is a process whereby an attacker fraudulently transfers the mobile number associated with a victim's SIM card to a new SIM card that they control. This can be done in various ways, often exploiting security weaknesses within a mobile carrier's systems, working with an insider at the carrier or phone store, or by duping customer service representatives. Once the swap is successful, the attacker gains control over the victim's phone number, and with it, access to their text messages, phone calls, and possibly any accounts tied to that number.  

One of the reasons the SIM swap threat is growing is from the advancement of mobile technology itself, the eSIM.  Hackers can now take advantage of modern phones which can handle 8+ eSIMS at a time and that means if they have a smartphone unattached to their name then they have unlimited means of SIM swapping victim's mobile numbers to their smartphone.   Just SIM swap a victim, steal what you can, delete the eSIM, and start over with the next victim.  

Dangers of Mobile SIM Swaps

1. Identity Theft

Perhaps the most immediate danger of a mobile SIM swap is identity theft. With control over a victim's phone number, attackers can intercept two-factor authentication (2FA) codes sent via text messages, enabling them to gain access to various online accounts. This includes email, social media, banking, and especially cryptocurrency wallets. Once an attacker breaches these accounts, they can wreak havoc by stealing sensitive information, compromising social profiles, and making unauthorized financial transactions.  

2. Unauthorized Access to Personal Information

Beyond gaining control of online accounts, attackers can use a victim's phone number to obtain sensitive information about the victim. They can reset passwords, access personal emails, and potentially steal confidential documents and files. This invasion of privacy can have severe emotional and financial repercussions for victims.  Imagine an experienced hacker getting access to your email or cloud accounts and syncing up years worth of your personal or business communications, then that data is sold on the dark web over and over.   

3. Financial Loss

The consequences of a successful mobile SIM swap can be financially devastating. Attackers can access and manipulate bank accounts, make unauthorized transactions, and even steal cryptocurrencies from digital wallets tied to the victim's phone number. The victim may be left with substantial monetary losses and the arduous task of recovering their funds.  No matter how many victims I’ve talked to that had a financial loss, it still stings me to this day and brings back my PTSD of being a SIM swap victim back in early 2019 which is a few months before Efani was officially launched 

4. Impersonation and Social Engineering

Once an attacker has control over a victim's phone number, they can impersonate the victim to trick family, friends, or colleagues. This impersonation can be used to manipulate people into divulging more information, providing access to additional accounts, or transferring funds. It's a sophisticated form of social engineering that can be difficult to detect until it's too late.  I talked with one victim who is a high-profile business owner and with one single SIM swap the hacker was able to steal a large amount of money, not from the SIM swap victim, but from his followers by impersonating that person and social engineering his followers.  

5. Blackmail and Extortion

With access to a victim's text messages and personal communications, attackers may discover sensitive or compromising information that can be used for blackmail and extortion. Victims may be coerced into paying large sums of money to prevent the exposure of personal or embarrassing details.  I’ve learned more about some SIM swap victims lives than I care to know, there has been a lot of personal information stolen and I’ve heard some very wild stories and lets just say that if your going to document things that you never want to become public and can be accessed by your mobile number or phone, then you need SIM swap security.

6. Disruption of Digital Life

Even if the attacker's motives are not financially driven, the victim's life can be severely disrupted. The loss of control over their phone number can result in missed important calls, texts, and emails. It can lead to damaged relationships, missed opportunities, and emotional distress.  The number of calls I get from victims of just purse harassment has grown by ten fold over the last two years.  

Read: How Friendstech Played Its Role in SIM Swap Scam

Mobile SIM Swap Preventive Measures

1. Secure Your Personal Information

Protect your personal information and accounts by setting strong and unique passwords for all your online profiles. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) that doesn't rely solely on text messages, or even better, use physical hardware keys when your application allows for this option.   Use a password manager to keep track of your login credentials.   One thing to keep in mind, a SIM swap hacker does not care how complex or simple your passwords are because once they control your mobile account they are using the “forgot password” features.

2. Keep Your Mobile Carrier Support Number 

Stay vigilant and monitor your phone for any unusual activity, such as loss of signal or service. If you suspect a SIM swap attempt or discover suspicious behavior, contact your mobile carrier immediately. They can help you secure your account and prevent unauthorized SIM swaps, but only if you recognize that the attack has been executed.  If the attack happens when you're sleeping, on a plane, driving the car, or when you're alone and far from another phone then I wish you the best of luck and that the damage is limited, as time is a huge factor in just how deep the hacker can go.  

3. Enable PIN Protection

Most mobile carriers allow customers to set up a personal identification number (PIN) that must be provided before any changes can be made to the account. Enable this feature to add an extra layer of security, but keep in mind that while this sounds helpful, your carrier will most likely attempt to verify you or the hacker if you simply tell them you forgot the PIN or that you stored the PIN on your phone that was just stolen.  Test this with your carrier and see what they say.

4. Be Cautious with Personal Information

Exercise caution when sharing personal information online or offline. Avoid oversharing on social media and be wary of unsolicited requests for personal information, especially when received via email or text messages.  Everyone knows that mobile hacking is a threat, yet we freely give out our mobile number or email people, and then use that same email and mobile number for banking, crypto accounts, brokerage, cloud accounts.

5. Regularly Check Your Financial Accounts

Regularly review your financial statements and transactions to quickly identify any suspicious activity. The sooner you detect unauthorized transactions, the quicker you can take action to prevent further losses.  Especially check your phone bill for any unauthorized purchase of a smartphone.   One of the creative hacking methods is for a hacker to impersonate you to purchase a phone and second line from a store or online, and then contact support the next day and ask for the new line and old line to be switched.   Evil genius move.

6. Use a Separate Phone Number for 2FA

Consider using a separate, dedicated phone number for 2FA on critical accounts. This way, even if your primary phone number is compromised in a SIM swap, your critical accounts remain protected.

7 Most Importantly:   Use Secure Mobile from Efani to Prevent SIM Swaps

Efani resells two of the top mobile operators in the US (excluding T-Mobile) with a focus on SIM swap security, privacy and a 5M insurance policy to back it up.  What you get is the following;

  • Choice of top mobile operator
  • Voice, SMS, and data in the US, Canada and Mexico
  • Up to 40GB of priority data included (LTE/5G)
  • International data roaming
  • Hotspot and global wifi calling
  • SIM swap security
  • Privacy benefits
  • Backed by a 5M insurance policy

Check out this link to learn about security threats, tips, and solutions for mobile hacking:   www.efani.com/youtube.

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Mobile SIM swaps represent a hidden threat that can have severe consequences for individuals' privacy, financial security, and emotional well-being. As we become increasingly reliant on our mobile phones, it's crucial to be aware of the dangers associated with SIM swaps and to take proactive measures to protect ourselves. By following the preventive measures outlined in this article, individuals can fortify their digital identities and minimize the risks associated with this emerging threat. Stay vigilant, secure your personal information, and take action to prevent mobile SIM swaps from wreaking havoc on your digital life.

Mark Kreitzman
General Manager, Efani Secure Mobile

I am General Manager at Efani Secure Mobile. I have over 20 years of experience in enterprise cybersecurity, including 8 years focused on mobile security. I have a high level of achievements and expertise in the Service Provider Alliance/Partner space. I am positioned at senior levels with SPs/Resellers such as AT&T, Verizon, Cisco Systems, and many others. I have deep experience in SaaS, cybersecurity, telecom, mobile & blockchain.

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